Writing Exercise – “Protest Night”

Here’s an exercise from late October or early November. I can’t remember which member of our writing group assigned this exercise, but it’s another taken from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story. 

Exercise 1 (Le Guin Chapter 2)

Paragraph of narrative with no punctuation (and no paragraphs or other breaking devices). Suggested subject: A group of people engaged in a hurried or hectic or confused activity, such as a revolution, or the scene of an accident, or the first few minutes of a one-day sale.

I decided to write about a protest march that gets out of hand. I found myself less interested in focusing on the details of a “hectic or confused activity” than I was in exploring how anger feels as it’s spiraling out of control. As it turned out, however, it was those specific “action” details that allowed me to experience anger as a physical sensation, so there you go.

Inspiration for the exercise—beyond, obviously, the numerous protests of 2020—came from some fleeting recollections of “anger” that sprang to mind from literature:

The opening line of Edgar Allen Poe’s chilling 1847 short story “The Cask of Amontillado”: The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. (This one goes beyond anger and is really more about coldblooded murder, but still, “the thousand injuries” and “when he ventured beyond insult” kept coming back to me.)

The ending of Athol Fugard’s 1982 play Master Harold . . . and the Boys, where neglected, abused teen Harold (“Hally”) lashes out at the only true father figure in his life and, unable to provoke a reaction and start the fight he apparently needs in order to vent his extreme anger/frustration, employs an unforgiveable insult and changes the relationship forever (although the play leaves hope that some level of reconciliation may be possible).

The last line of Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem,” which serves as the final potential answer to the question “What happens to a dream deferred?” after other possibilities are proffered and apparently rejected:Or does it explode?”

Given the violent events of this past week, it seems like maybe today is a good day to post this exercise. It was disturbing to write and therefore may also be disturbing to read, so I apologize if it is. Then again, you may think it’s garbage writing too weak to prompt any emotional response besides boredom, in which case I don’t apologize at all 🙂

So, first the usual disclaimer. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

And now my exercise. (By the way, I thought my title was all clever and literary, as “protest” could serve as either an adjective, describing the type of night, or as a verb, meaning to object to and rage against a metaphoric “night.” Sorry for the self-indulgent aside, but because I no longer teach literature classes, and MSOE’s Great Books has been shut down for months because of the pandemic, I never get to fool around with this kind of analysis anymore.)

“Protest Night”

We’ve been walking for hours and finally they start handing out broken cinderblocks through open car windows now that we’ve almost reached our destination punctuating rage at the police at the pandemic at life and at these smug suburban neighborhood storefronts the cool cement heavy in our hands but swung easily in graceful arcs crashing with musical laughter as splinters of glass fly and now the group is moving forward again through the relentless honking of our escorts and helicopters droning overhead shaking the glittered sidewalks behind us so I said that bitch better have my money when I get into work tomorrow I’m tired of this shit and take my brick up a green lawn to where a curtain flutters shut against me how dare you how dare you and the brick is flying before I know it and a voice cries out that’s somebody’s home and flashing strobes of red and blue light and the cops standing in a line with shields watching us advance and helicopters shaking the glittered bushes but no one inside responds so I pick up the pot of geraniums from their doorstep surprisingly heavy and it’s done now I’m committed and I hurl it against the door where it shatters into clay shards and dirt and scattered red petals and I hate everyone so much as I turn toward the police standing in their silent line craving the confrontation about to happen.

Appleswitch via Flickr Creative Commons



About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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6 Responses to Writing Exercise – “Protest Night”

  1. Sally Cissna says:

    Wow! I can hardly believe how well that works with no punctuation. Easy to read and to follow and yet, the tension built in my own chest as I read it. Maybe it’s just this painful week, but I doubt it. That was really good!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. love this one and so appropriate for these times!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. paulrwaibel says:

    When I was in high school, we had to diagram sentences from time to time in English. I wonder what a diagram of that sentence would look like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A mess!😂 Believe it or not, I occasionally still pull out my rusty diagramming skills to explain sentence structure to college students. They’ve never seen it before. But as engineering majors, they kind of do enjoy the logic of it😄


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